For this review I handle the newly furnished live album from Mark Mulcahy, who’s notable for his former membership in Miracle Legion and for having garnered public praise from Thom Yorke for his musical synergy. Adding to the poignancy is the exact point in time this show took place in Boston — October 2019, which would slot it within the absolute final days of live shows transpiring, before the shutdown.
Here we are, then, craning back to this utopian day in our history, mouths watering and eyes seething with hunger, and Mulcahy does anything but disappoint. Much like another live album that’s only available on Bandcamp, Blitzen Trapper’s Live in Portland, Live at the Red Room stands as a distinct, enlivening snapshot of a great band within their live performance realm. Give lots of credit in this vein to Mark Seedorf, who’s credited with bass, keys, vox and “audio assembled by” (he’s the producer, kiddies). Actually I made the comment to Mulcahy that the mix was good for the particular reason of the bass being incessantly audible, unaware at the time that the bassist had actually mixed the album, which I suppose would have obviated that the bass would be there in a big way.
By and large, anyway, Mulcahy provides a nice foil to Wilco (who also released an album in 2019) by having more of a “groove,” and being, let’s face it, a little more chipper. Many of the influences are the same: the rockabilly tradition from Townes Van Zandt through T-Bone Burnett, the mellow Led Zeppelin stuff, etc., etc. Now, the way I describe how Mulcahy slots into the current rock canon might make him sound repetitive, monochromatic or monotonous, and nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, even within the tried and true, even rigid rubrick of folk rock, one of Mulcahy’s penchants is freshness, or variety, and every time one of these songs trucks in it seems to stand in defiant stylistic and affective contrast to everything that preceded it on the album. “Badly Madly” is a proud, straight-ahead opener with basic major chords, and from there we go in a variety of directions from the tenser, infinitely emotional “Hurry Please Hurry” to “Taking Baby Steps,” a ballad whose only percussion is maraca and which provides the refreshing message of “Don’t ya worry you’ll get there / Taking baby steps is gonna be just fine”.
Overall, it’s impossible to overstate how alive and breathing this music seems, just when everything otherwise seemed doomed to devolution into tradition and back-patting, given the cultural context. Mulcahy’s vocals themselves are even wild and unpredictable and on certain songs he’ll just start grunting, or making monosyllabic, gibberish sounds, just to remind you that this is not an enterprise to be completely synopsized by logic or semantics. Red Room even plays as great music for spring, as well, with the energetic, pert disposition and the optimistic quips on the future which seem more than grounded enough to be aptly embraced.